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January 15, 2012

A driving force

MADISON - With both ankles firmly taped and reliably exposed, sophomore point guard Josh Gasser and his bare feet stood confidently in front of yet another digital voice recorder.

Peppered with questions regarding his aggression level during Wisconsin's most recent win at Purdue, Gasser did nothing but crack a wry smile.

"I'm definitely going to focus on doing it more," Gasser said. "It's about being aggressive and attacking the hoop. When my opportunities are there I'm going to take it."

Withering into Mackey Arena - - a place UW had only won once in the past 32 years entering Thursday's game - - Wisconsin was staring a four-game losing streak dead in the eye.

All the cards seemed to be stacked against the Badgers, for it looked as though any and all karma was amicably placed against UW, a team that has created its own luck over the years with stellar defensive play that allowed it to remain in nearly every game.

Sure Purdue might not be as uber-talented as it has been in recent years, but the Boilermakers were certainly more than capable of beating Wisconsin. The Badgers knew they'd have to turn a complete '180' from their game at Michigan (an 18-point loss) earlier in the week.

They'd have to get aggressive. They'd have to take good looks without thinking twice about any potential great looks that could have come later in the shot clock. They'd have to knock down shots.

Consider Gasser the spearhead of that attack.

"It helps everybody," UW senior leader Jordan Taylor said in regards to Gasser's ability to drive the lane. "It's just adding another playmaker on the team. Josh can do that and he knows he can do that. They were pretty much leaving him on an island with guys and he was finding nice driving lanes and he was finishing."

Gasser finished that game - - a 67-62 UW win - - with 10 points on 3-of-5 shooting. He knocked down a 3-pointer, made three of his four free throws, collected four rebounds and dished four assists.

It wasn't Gasser's best game of the year, but it was certainly up there. His dribble drives and lay-ins were instrumental in fending off a hard-charging Purdue squad desperate to add to its 26-game home winning streak.

His aggression - - something UW was severely lacking during its three-game skid - - was something brewed by confidence.

"Confidence can do a lot of things," UW assistant coach Greg Gard said. "It can make you appear much better than you really are and it can make you appear much worse than you really are. Like I said before, if you (could only) bottle that and distribute confidence when they need it.

"It's usually self given."

Just a couple days after Wisconsin lost to Michigan, Gasser made it clear he was going to become more assertive. There was a time in that rather lackluster debacle of an offensive performance where Gasser's aggression, specifically aimed at breaking Michigan's zone by penetrating to gaps, allowed the Badgers to reel off a quick run to take it's last lead of the game at 13-12.

That might have been the genesis of his current mindset.

He's also smart about it. He understands playing alongside Taylor will force him to take some of the pressure of his senior teammate, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

Sometimes it's as simple as a dribble-drive.

"Jordan gets a lot of attention and a lot of guys will sag when he's driving," Gasser said. "When he kicks it there are going to be opportunities to drive. Normally when we penetrate good things happen.

"I've just got to be one of those guys that get to the lane and make the right decision. When we do, good things happen."


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